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Global slowdown, China spat hurt Japan trade

TOKYO -- Japan posted its worst September trade figures in more than 30 years, official data showed Monday, as the global slowdown and a territorial spat with China weighed on the world's third-largest economy.

The country has been struggling to turn around its fortunes following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, while also suffering from Europe's debt crisis, slowing Chinese demand and the strong yen.

Weaker shipments to the U.S. market also dug into the latest results, which showed a monthly trade deficit of 558.6 billion yen (US$7.0 billion), reversing a year-earlier surplus of 288.8 billion yen as exports fell 10.3 percent on year.

It was the first deficit for September since 1979, when comparable data became available, as demand for everything from chemicals and cars to medical products and computer parts fell away.

The new figures also showed that Japan notched up a trade deficit of 3.22 trillion yen in the first half of the fiscal year to March 2013, the biggest half-year shortfall in over three decades.

September imports rose 4.1 percent due to higher energy imports following nuclear plant shutdowns after last year's Fukushima atomic crisis. Nuclear power once supplied about one-third of Japan's energy needs.

Shipments to China, which is Japan's biggest trading partner, tumbled 14.1 percent as demand dropped for Japan-branded products including industrial machinery and cars, while a broader economic slowdown in China factored into the weak figures.

Tokyo and Beijing have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter territorial dispute over an East China Sea archipelago, called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, which Japan nationalized in mid-September.

The spat has led to thousands of flights being cancelled between the nations, while Japan's top three automakers said their sales in China plunged last month, with Toyota posting the biggest drop as September sales slumped 48.9 percent on year.

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A truck leaves a container yard at the international cargo terminal in Tokyo on Monday, Oct. 22. Japan has posted its worst September trade figures in more than 30 years, as the global slowdown and a territorial spat with China weighed on the world's third-largest economy. (AFP)

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